Croatian linguistic purism

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One of the defining features of modern Croatian is according to some a preference for word coinage from native Slavic morphemes, as opposed to adopting loanwords or replacing them altogether. This particularly relates to other Serbo-Croatian standards of Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian which liberally draw on Turkish, Latin, Greek and Russian loanwords.


Croatian literature across the centuries is argued to demonstrate a tendency to cherish Slavic words and word coinage, and to expel "foreign" borrowings. Croatian philologist Zlatko Vince articulates this tendency as follows:

Croatian literature even in the old ages tends to stay away from barbarisms and foreign words, a certain conscious care in the works of literature is felt when it comes to language selection. In the course of centuries hence the tendency is formed for standard language to be as much as pure and selective as possible. One thing is the colloquial language, often ridden with foreign words, and entirely different thing is the language of literary works in which tendency for language purity arises. The way and the extent to which that need could be satisfied is different in various periods, but the tendency for as pure and selective language can be noted even in Old Dubrovnik writers, and in Vitezović. All the way to pre-Illyrian and Illyrian efforts and by the end of the 19th century, when the osmotic influence of traditional Croatian literary heritage does not cease to stop...That care of language purity which characterizes Croatian literary expression even in the 19th century, remains immanent in later periods...Standard language of the Croats is in fact organic continuation of older state of affairs in Croatian literature.[1]

In a session regarding the issue of the usage for foreign words in Croatian, as well on the problems of ongoing projects of coining Slavic replacements for established technical terms by combined efforts of linguists and specialists, the now defunct institution for the standardization of Croatian—the Council for Standard Croatian Language Norm—has presented the historical overview of the issue as follows:

The attitude towards foreign words in standard Croatian is multi-dimensional in many respects. The origin of Croatian linguistic culture, when writing in Slavic, is determined by the tradition of Church Slavonic literature. Originating from copies of Ancient Greek liturgical texts, it places a distinct emphasis to Slavic expressive devices, and only exceptionally non-Slavic words are being borrowed. That tendency has been continued in Croatian linguistic culture to this day. The usage of Croatian words, if necessary even in a modified meaning, or Croatian coinages, if they're considered to be successful, represents higher merit then mere mechanical borrowing of foreign expressive devices. That way the Croatian word is more solemn and formal (glazba, mirovina, redarstvenik), and the loanword is more relaxing and less demanding (muzika, penzija, policajac). This dimension of purism is incorporated into the very foundations of Croatian linguistic sensitivity.[2]


The Illyrian movement and its successor, the Zagreb Philological School, have been particularly successful in creating the corpus of Croatian terminology that covered virtually all areas of modern civilization. This was especially visible in two fundamental works: Ivan Mažuranić's and Josip Užarević's: "German-Croatian dictionary" from 1842 and Bogoslav Šulek's "German-Croatian-Italian dictionary of scientific terminology", 1875. These works, particularly Šulek's, systematized (i.e. collected from older dictionaries), invented and coined Croatian terminology for the 19th century jurisprudence, military schools, exact and social sciences, as well as numerous other fields (technology and commodities of urban civilization).

First Yugoslavia[edit]

During the Yugoslav period, from 1918 to 1990, Croatian and Serbian were treated as Western and Eastern variant of Serbo-Croatian. Parts of this policy were systematic attempts to eliminate traits of standard Croatian by which it distinguished itself from standard Serbian.[3]

World War II[edit]

In the Independent State of Croatia, a World War II state that existed between 1941 and 1945,[4] the totalitarian dictatorship of Ante Pavelić pushed purist tendencies to extremes.

The language law of 1941 promulgated purity as a policy, and tried to eliminate internationalisms, stigmatized Serbisms and introduced etymological spelling (korijenski pravopis).[4]

No Croatian dictionaries or grammars were published during this period because of the opposition of the Croatian linguists. This era is best covered in Marko Samardžija's "Hrvatski jezik u Nezavisnoj Državi Hrvatskoj", (Croatian in the Independent State of Croatia), 1993.

Second Yugoslavia[edit]

In Communist Yugoslavia, Serbian terminology prevailed in a few areas: the military, diplomacy, Federal Yugoslav institutions (various institutes and research centres), state media and jurisprudence at Yugoslav level.[citation needed]

The methods used for this "unification" were manifold and chronologically multifarious; even in the eighties, a common "argument" was to claim that the opponents of the official Yugoslav language policy were sympathising with the Ustaša regime of World War 2, and that the incriminated words were thus "ustašoid" as well.[3] Another method was to punish authors who fought against censorship. Linguists and philologists, the authors of dictionaries, grammars etc., were not allowed to write their works freely and according to the best of their professional knowledge and competence. Hence, for example, the whole edition of the Croatian Orthography ('Hrvatski pravopis') edited by Babić-Finka-Moguš (1971) was destroyed in a paper factory just because it had been titled "Croatian" Orthography instead of "Serbocroatian" or "Croatoserbian" Orthography[3]

The passive Croatian vocabulary contained many banished words equivalent to the actively used words of the politically approved vocabulary. For example, the officers of the JNA could be publicly called only oficir, and not časnik. For the usage of word časnik ('officer'), coined by a father of Croatian scientific terminology Bogoslav Šulek, the physician Ivan Šreter was sentenced to 50 days in jail in 1987.[5] Concordantly, the possibility of using the previously frequent word časnik was already reduced to the extent that before 1991 it could occur only in special contexts, e.g. in relation to historical events.[5]

After Communism[edit]

After the collapse of Communism and subsequent wars, the situation changed. Suppressive relations changed significantly after the dissolution of the SFRJ and the founding of the sovereign Republic of Croatia. The regained freedom enabled public usage of previously forbidden words in the semantic sphere of administration, army etc.[6] As a consequence, formerly suppressed words switched from the more or less passive vocabulary of standard Croatian to the active one without any special stylistic marking.[6]

Croatian linguists fought this wave of "populist purism", led by various patriotic non-linguists. Ironically: the same people who were, for decades, stigmatised as ultra-Croatian "linguistic nationalists" (Stjepan Babić, Dalibor Brozović, Radoslav Katičić, Miro Kačić) have been accused as pro-Serbian "political linguists" simply because they opposed these "language purges" that wanted to purge numerous words of Church Slavonic origin (which are common not only to Croatian and Serbian, but are also present in Polish, Russian, Czech and other Slavic languages).[citation needed]

In 1993, the Dr. Ivan Šreter Award was created to promote neologisms in Croatian.

Before 1994, the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (which had come into power in 1990) considered ideas reminiscent of the Independent State of Croatia language policy in the form of the so-called korijenski pravopis, but ultimately discarded it as too radical and instead made the londonski pravopis, originally made during the Croatian Spring, official.[4] At the time, extreme forms of purism were advocated by nationalist-minded linguists who were in turn described by Radoslav Katičić as "marginal elements".[7][8] The leaders of (mainstream) language purification were Stjepan Babić and Dalibor Brozović.[9]

Since the 1990s, a form of language censorship has been practiced by the "proofreaders" (called lektori) in the media and schoolbooks.[10][11] Despite forcing techniques for implementing purism, there has been significant resistance to purism in common usage.[12][13][14] There have also been Croatian linguists that offer severe criticism of the language purism, e.g., Vladimir Anić,[15] Snježana Kordić,[16] Dubravko Škiljan,[10] Kristina Štrkalj[17] and Mate Kapović.[18]


  1. ^ Vince, Zlatko (1968). Filološke škole XIX. stoljeća u razvoju hrvatskog književnog jezika (in Croatian). Zagreb. pp. 171–172. U hrvatskoj se književnosti već u staro doba nastoje kloniti barbarizama i stranih riječi, osjeća se u književnim djelima određena svjesna briga oko jezičnog odabiranja. U toku stoljeća javlja se dakle težnja da književni jezik u književnim djelima bude što čišći, probraniji. Jedno je jezik razgovorni, često pun tuđica, a drugo je jezik u književnim djelima u kojima se javlja nastojanje za što većom jezičnom čistoćom. Način na koji se to može postići i u kojoj mjeri, u raznim je vremenima različit, ali težnju za što probranijim i čistijim književnim jezikom zapažamo i kod dubrovačkih književnika, i kod Vitezovića...Ta briga oko jezične čistoće koja karakterizira hrvatski književni izraz i u XIX. stoljeću, ostala je imanentna i kasnije...Književni jezik u Hrvata zapravo je dakle organski nastavak starijeg stanja u hrvatskoj književnosti.
  2. ^ "Zapisnik 15. sjednice Vijeća za normu hrvatskoga standardnoga jezika". 2006-12-21. Archived from the original on 2007-06-12. Odnos prema stranim riječima u hrvatskom književnom jeziku vrlo je slojevit. Ishodište hrvatske jezične kulture, kada se rabi slavenski, određeno je tradicijom crkvenoslavenske književnosti. U njoj, koja polazi od preslika grčkih liturgijskih tekstova, dana je izrazita prednost slavenskim izražajnim sredstvima, a tek iznimno se preuzimaju riječi koje nisu slavenske. To je udarilo pečat hrvatskoj jezičnoj kulturi sve do naših dana. Poraba hrvatskih riječi, ako treba i prilagođena značenja, ili hrvatskih tvorenica, ako se doživljavaju kao uspjele, predstavlja veću vrijednost nego mehaničko preuzimanje stranih izražajnih sredstava. Tako je onda hrvatska riječ svečanija i formalnija (glazba, mirovina, redastvenik), a posuđenica opuštenija i manje zahtjevna (muzika, penzija, policajac). Ta dimenzija purizma ugrađena je u same temelje hrvatske jezične osjetljivosti.
  3. ^ a b c Grčević 2002:150
  4. ^ a b c Busch 2004, p. 205.
  5. ^ a b Grčević 2002:151
  6. ^ a b Grčević 2002:152
  7. ^ Busch 2004, p. 206.
  8. ^ Czerwiński 2005, p. 90.
  9. ^ Czerwiński 2005, p. 131.
  10. ^ a b Škiljan, Dubravko (20 January 2006). "Hrvatski ima male šanse postati radnim jezikom nekog tijela EU-a". Jutarnji list (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  11. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2006). "Sprache und Nationalismus in Kroatien" [Language and Nationalism in Croatia]. In Symanzik, Bernhard (ed.). Studia Philologica Slavica: Festschrift für Gerhard Birkfellner zum 65. Geburtstag gewidmet von Freunden, Kollegen und Schülern: Teilband I (PDF). Münstersche Texte zur Slavistik, vol. 4 (in German). Berlin: Lit. pp. 339–347. ISBN 3-8258-9891-1. OCLC 315818880. SSRN 3438896. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  12. ^ Völkl, Sigrid D. (1999). "Die Sprachensituation nach dem Zerfall Jugoslawiens". In Ohnheiser, Ingeborg; Kienpointner, Manfred; Kalb, Helmut (eds.). Sprachen in Europa: Sprachsituation und Sprachpolitik in europäischen Ländern. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft ; vol. 30 (in German). Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaft. pp. 319–334. ISBN 3-85124-194-0.
  13. ^ Czerwiński 2005, p. 78.
  14. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2004). "Die aktuelle Sprachzensur in Kroatien" [The current censorship of language in Croatia]. In Symanzik, Bernhard; Birkfellner, Gerhard; Sproede, Alfred (eds.). Sprache - Literatur - Politik. Osteuropa im Wandel: Beiträge zu einem Symposium in Münster, 28./29. Juli 2003 (PDF). Studien zur Slavistik ; vol. 10 (in German). Hamburg: Dr. Kovač. pp. 259–272. ISBN 3-8300-1215-2. OCLC 57222231. SSRN 3434499. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  15. ^ Jergović, Miljenko (4 March 2000). "Govorite li idiotski?: razgovor s Vladimirom Anićem" [Do you speak idiotic?: Interview with Vladimir Anić] (in Serbo-Croatian). Feral Tribune. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  16. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2010). Jezik i nacionalizam [Language and Nationalism] (PDF). Rotulus Universitas (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb: Durieux. pp. 9–68. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3467646. ISBN 978-953-188-311-5. LCCN 2011520778. OCLC 729837512. OL 15270636W. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2012. Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  17. ^ Štrkalj, Kristina (2003). "Kad lingvistikom ravna politika. Nekoliko zapažanja o pravilima lektoriranja na Hrvatskoj televiziji". Književna republika (in Serbo-Croatian). 1 (5–6): 174–185. ISSN 1334-1057.
  18. ^ Kapović, Mate (23 February 2011). "Lektori su cenzorska pješadija". Slobodna Dalmacija (in Croatian). Split. Archived from the original on 3 March 2013. Retrieved 3 February 2013.


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